We all know about the crisis in Ukraine. We all know about the Ebola outbreak, and we are all aghast at the advance of ISIS in the Middle East. But are you aware of the single deadliest conflict since the World War II? More importantly, do you know if you are inadvertently contributing to this humanitarian catastrophe?

Although it is rarely in the news, the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has claimed 5.4 million lives since 1996 and remains one of the world’s worst active crises. In addition to its high death toll, it is notable for its rampant sexual violence: an average of 48 rapes are committed per hour. 

The conflict in the DRC is multifaceted, but here is the gist: the Rwandan genocide provided the trigger for the First Congo War, but the despotic rule of Mobutu Sese Seko certainly was an underlying factor. Following the genocide, Tutsi rebels took control of Rwanda. Two million refugees flooded into the DRC, most of them Hutu. Hutu extremists were among civilian refugees and used the eastern DRC as a base to continue the Rwandan civil war. This stoked instability, and eventually resulted in an uprising. Rwanda and Uganda joined to help depose Mobutu. Laurent Kabila, the new leader, failed to oust Hutu militias, prompting Rwanda and Uganda to again invade; Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe intervened in support of Kabila. This Second Congo War ended with a 2003 peace accord. However, paramilitary groups have continued to clash in the mineral-rich eastern DRC ever since. 

Consumers may be inadvertently complicit in this violence through our purchases. Up to 95 per cent of revenue for armed groups is derived from the sale of conflict minerals, sustaining rebel operations and providing a strong incentive to avoid peace. Mineral wealth is thus a driver of conflict.

Conflict minerals are extracted by local labourers who are illegally taxed, and otherwise exploited, by rebel groups that control the mines. They are sold at local trading houses, then again to exporters who sell the minerals to smelters and refiners that process the minerals. The processed minerals are then manufactured in products that we purchase. The conflict minerals, often called “3TGs” (tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold), are present in many products such as electronics, jewelry, airplanes, cans, and medical devices. 

Canada has yet to pass legislation requiring businesses to avoid the use of conflict minerals in their products. Given that the US passed a law of this nature in 2010, Canada lags woefully behind.

However, a draft of a Private Member’s Bill on conflict minerals has been proposed

Bill C-486, the Conflict Minerals Act, would require companies that are engaged in the extraction, processing, purchasing, trading, or use of “3TG” minerals originating from the DRC and surrounding countries to exercise due diligence — to take reasonable steps to ensure that they are not using conflict minerals. The bill implements OECD recommendations developed in coordination with industry and the governments from the Great Lakes Region of Africa. 

Bill C-486 will be voted on this month but is, unfortunately, unlikely to pass. Several Conservative MPs have stated their opposition to Bill C-486 because they feel that it will make Canadian companies less competitive. Considering that the US already holds companies to these reasonable human rights standards, and that the European Union is expected to pass conflict minerals legislation soon, this concern is hardly plausible. 

If you think that Canadians have a right to know whether our purchases are contributing to conflict and gross human rights violations abroad, take part in the National Day of Action on Conflict Minerals on Wednesday, September 17, by signing STAND CANADA’s petition, and supporting the cause on social media. 

Kristen Pue is the Advocacy Director at STAND CANADA, a youth-led anti-genocide organization. She is a student in the Faculty of Law.